Crowdsource Mapping Helps Recovery Efforts In Philippines

Nov 15, 2013
Originally published on November 15, 2013 3:36 pm

The United Nations says 11 million people are affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which hammered the islands a week ago today. The death toll is now more than 3,000, and the survivors are still struggling to get the food and water they so desperately need.

Blocked roads, destroyed buildings and downed telecommunications systems are making it difficult for relief workers to reach some of the most devastated regions of the Philippines.

But more than 900 people are lending a hand remotely by collaborating on online maps, through the OpenStreetMap network. The maps use satellite technology and the knowledge of the public to help relief organizations, like the Red Cross, know where buildings and roads are located and how and where to best deliver supplies.

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Dale Kunce, a geospatial engineer with the American Red Cross.

“Roads and buildings are the most important things for us,” Kunce says. “We need to map the roads so that we know where to go, so that we know how to get around, basically. We wanted to map all of the buildings so that we could map what was there before, so that we could start to do damage assessments to understand the overall calamity of what happened, so that we could then prioritize different areas.”

We also hear reports from the BBC’s Paul Moss in the port city of Ormoc, on Leyte Island, and the BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani in the heavily damaged city of Tacloban.

Hear the report by Rajesh Mirchandani
Video: Dale Kunce on Humanitarian OpenStreetMap at the Red Cross

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MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

The typhoon that swept across the Philippines last Friday killed thousands and affected an estimated 10 million people. Aid is arriving but progress on that front has been slow. The BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani reports from the heavily-damaged city of Tacloban.

RAJESH MIRCHANDANI: It's one week since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, and still, the full extent of the devastation remains unclear. From the air, the city of Tacloban, which is one of the worst affected areas, just looks destroyed. It is an apocalyptic scene. Parts of the city, which are closer to the shore, have been decimated. There's nothing left. For the last seven days, this must have been an unbearable hell for the people who call this place home. One week on, how have people here have been coping in the ruins of their city?

Barely, it seems, as we picked our way through the detritus of the city. There were people everywhere, living now in the open, a line of probably a thousand stretched from the convention center where they've been told to wait for food aid, although we didn't see any delivered. We met Abigail Salis, a new widow, now with sick children too.

ABIGAIL SALIS: There's so many people there. It's very long line. We will wait because their food, we will eat.

MIRCHANDANI: When was the last time that you had something to eat?

SALIS: Last night.

MIRCHANDANI: What have you had to eat?

SALIS: (Unintelligible)

MIRCHANDANI: Just biscuits.

SALIS: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We event to start giving out tents and laminated sheets today here in Tacloban and we'll be moving out to the other towns.

MIRCHANDANI: Every morning now, local authorities and response groups gather to share updates. Right now, the meetings are chaired by the Philippine Secretary of the Interior, Mar Roxas, who's keenly aware that his government's been criticized for slow response. But he told me it was because so much of the infrastructure of Tacloban simply doesn't exist anymore.

SECRETARY MAR ROXAS: Everything that you see here has been brought in from the outside. I only have 16 trucks that are delivering goods and food stuffs to the communities.

MIRCHANDANI: For the whole city?

ROXAS: For the whole province.

MIRCHANDANI: Aid is starting to get through to people, and Mark McCarthy from the UN's Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is confident the operation is finally in full swing.

MARK MCCARTHY: It's been really difficult, logistically. There's still bodies on the way to the airport. It's a very difficult environment. But things are starting to move out. There's a lot of materials coming in now, so it's going to get really busy in the next few hours on the roads around Tacloban. And you're going to see trucks heading in every direction. It's just taken longer than we ever wanted to, but everyone does the best they can.

CHAKRABARTI: That report from the BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.